Erie railroad carried pellets 73 miles to Taconite Harbor

The different colors of the locomotives used by the Erie Mining Company are pictured in the book “Taconite: New Life for Minnesota’s Iron Range - The History of Erie Mining Company.’’

HOYT LAKES — The book “Taconite: New Life for Minnesota’s Iron Range - The History of Erie Mining Company,” written by a team of former employees of the mine that closed two decades ago, reads, “The railroad and dock were an integral part of Erie during its 43 years of operation.” Erie Mining Company owned its railroad and repairs were done on-site at the Erie shops.

Erie in 1957 had an area about nine miles long east to west and more than a mile wide.

The plant site consisted of coarse crusher, fine crusher, concentrator, pelletizing plant and general shops. Mining would eventually expand to 12 separate areas. “Two mine equipment maintenance facilities shops. Tailing basin north of plant site, pellet loading pocket and stockpile south of pelletizing plant. Power plant and dock at Taconite Harbor connected to plant site by electrical transmission lines... and a 73-mile-long railroad.”

Erie operated two separate railroads, one to haul ore from the pits to the crusher and the Mainline Railroad connecting to the shipping facilities at Taconite Harbor on Lake Superior.

The engines were painted different colors — orange and black for the mine railroad and blue and silver for the mainline. Blue and silver were the colors of Yale University, the alma mater of several of the Pickands Mather executives. (Pickands Mather was among the first to research taconite in the late 1930s, and in the 1940s it formed Erie Mining Company in Minnesota to develop taconite pellets. It became a commercially successful venture by the mid-1950s.)

In 1963, all Erie Mining Company equipment bore yellow paint with a maroon stripe, and in 1975 the roofs were painted black.

And “every month Erie moved more material than the average large Mesabi Range natural ore mine did in a year,” the book reads.

During the Great Lakes shipping season pellets were loaded directly into rail cars, to be transported the 73 miles to Taconite Harbor. During winter pellets were stockpiled — Erie had the largest conveyor belt pellet stacker in the country.

The book reads, “The typical pellet train consisted of four locomotives providing 7,000 horsepower and 96 pellet cars, each loaded with 80 tons of pellets for a train total of 7,680 tons. In early years three round trips a day were sufficient. As production increased, as many as seven trips per day were required.”

The Erie history book tells the story of the mining company ordering 27 diesel electric locomotives, and “they were to be kept in heated storage.” Erie officials decided to use Cramer Tunnel located on the 73-mile-long railroad as a storage shed.

“Locomotives were moved into the tunnel in November and December. Heaters maintained a temperature above 40 degrees to deal with harsh winter conditions.” The plan had worked.

But Erie’s future was not to be as promising, as LTV Steel Mining took over and filed for bankruptcy.

In 2001 -- 20 years ago -- Erie Mining Company’s 61-year story would come to an end. And Taconite Harbor, with “one of the fastest loading inland ore docks in the world,” 33 miles from Grand Marais and 51 miles from Two Harbors, would become a ghost town.

The community that had been the destination of the locomotives from Erie Mining Company bearing the taconite pellets bound for steel mills in the East was no more.

In 1986, the remaining residents were told they would have to start moving, and in 1988 the final resident left.

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